Sunday, 13 December 2009

What to Expect When You are Inspected

parade of fabricated elephants

It was a neat little list of personality adjectives. Hard-working, organised, tidy... They marched like pink elephants on parade, then suddenly... They turned into tiny monsters, which grew, until they turned into big monsters with sharp claws and even sharper teeth. Gluttony, anger, greed... Then they disappeared and instead there was my lesson plan, only I couldn't read it. Everything was a blur and I couldn't see the inspector, but he was there somewhere and he wasn't pleased at all.

Then I woke up.

Then my school was inspected. The personality adjectives behaved themselves, so did my lesson plan, so did my students, and so, hopefully, did I.

I've been in the classroom for 20 years and, as you can guess, this wasn't my first inspection at all. So, why panic?

1. Because it never gets easier. I mean teaching, not being inspected. You never reach those high standards of perfection you set yourself 20 years ago. There are times you feel you are improving every day and there are times you get frustrated and actually feel you are a worse teacher than you were the year before.

2. Because somebody is watching you. Somebody who knows. Your students take everything you do in class for granted - they are usually easy to please (OK, usually, not always). But another teacher - be it an inspector, your DOS, a colleague, or even a novice teacher - they will sit there and take in everything you do or fail to do. I find novice teachers particularly scary. They walk into your classroom looking for ancient wisdom and they still believe that it is possible to reach perfection in class. You can see the disappointment in their face as they realise they are observing yet another imperfect teacher in action.

3. Because you have worked hard and you need someone to acknowledge that. Again, the students won't do. As John Cleese says in that film, they are not qualified. But a colleague is a different story. Getting a compliment from a colleague will do wonders for your self-esteem.

4. Because you yourself will concentrate on what you are doing rather than on your students. This is why most teachers complain that the classes that are observed are not as "good" or as "natural" as their "real" classes. This is true, up to a point. If you let your lesson plan rule the class and completely disregard your students and their needs, then your class will not be good and it will not look good. There are all sorts of things that can force you to adapt or completely abandon your original plan. One of the main problems is that students tend to behave differently when someone is present. Talkative students grow quiet, good students often forget basic things and there is always that student who decides that now's the right time to ask all the difficult questions about grammar and vocabulary. Most of them, however, think that they need to rescue the teacher, so they pretend that they understand even if they don't and start talking in pairs before you told them to (happened to me during the inspection).

The system of class observations is not perfect but the alternative is terrifying. Imagine having to teach for the rest of your life without any feedback from your colleagues. Or, for that matter, without the chance to observe another teacher and learn from them. Learning from each other is the only way we can go forward, towards that ideal of perfection that we had in mind when we were novice teachers.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Teacher as the Light at the End of the Tunnel


They came to the first class timidly. They looked at me, their faces enthusiastic and hopeful. They all had their textbooks open at the first page. They wrote busily into their notebooks and, when I gave them homework, they all brought it back the next class.

No, I am not making it up. These are my new students. Some of them are my old students, but they have all transformed themselves into this dream student overnight.

Am I surprised? Not really. I have seen this strange behaviour before. It was back in the nineties. I don't like to remember those times. Wars, hyperinflation, the general feeling of despair... Our students, however, were eager to learn. Most of them were planning to leave the country for good and my school was a safehouse between their old life and their new life. Others wanted to learn English just in case...

A very good friend of mine got out of a painful relationship some 10 years ago. I remember that she kept repeating: I am going to learn English really well. I am also going to learn how to drive. Then I'll buy myself a car. And then I'll go anywhere I want.

Now that the economic crisis has hit us hard, learning English has once again become a priority for a lot of people. This time they are not focusing on leaving the country right now (nowhere to go while the crisis is all around us), but they are still learning the language just in case. Because, once you can speak English well, you can go anywhere you want.

OK, maybe I am imagining it. I have been really lucky with my students this year. Yes, they are enthusiastic and yes, they are eager to learn. And yes, I smile on my way to work every day. Even if they are not looking for a way out, I know they have had to give up a lot to be able to pay for the course. And that makes me think about my responsibilities as a teacher even more.

The EFL classroom is the place where people learn English. The main idea, then, would be to make sure they learn it well. However, that's not the only thing we do in the EFL classroom. We support each other and celebrate each other's victories. We inspire each other. We share stories. Not all of the stories are nice, especially these days. What do you do when a student walks into class immediately after she has lost her job? Do you talk about it, or do you leave her alone? If she starts crying, what do you do then? They never taught us those things at the University.

I have said it over and over in this blog - I believe in the healing power of the group. That's why I would say that one of my first responsibilities as a teacher at the beginning of each semester is to create that group spirit. So that we can support each other through the learning process and through whatever happens outside the classroom.

I don't know why, but I have been working on this post for two weeks. I wrote, I deleted, I wrote again, I deleted again. The only thing that I haven't deleted so far is the title. However, making the rest of the post live up to the title was what troubled me. What wisdom, ancient or new, could I pass on to you? What advice was I going to give you? What solution?

Well, here it is: just keep doing whatever you are doing in the classroom, because it is important. Especially these days.

That's it?!

Afraid so. I couldn't think of anything else to say to you and, anyway, that's what I have been doing all this time.

I created this slideshow last winter when I attended the Images4Education workshop:

I Want My Students To
View more presentations from lunas994.

I am going to publish this post as it is now. I am finished with editing it. Please feel free to add your thoughts. How can EFL teachers help their students go wherever they want to go? And what exactly is the role of an EFL teacher during the time of the economic crisis?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

More on the Scary Subject of Letting Go

Rain drop

In my last post I wondered what would happen if we, the teachers, just "let go" from time to time and, instead of trying to control our students, we just observed them. Something like that.

I was merely trying to be clever, you see. However, some people took me seriously, as you can see in the comments area. Thank you, Nina and Dennis, for very constructive comments and for making me think. I even promised I would try letting go in class from time to time.

Then I remembered that it had already happened in one of my classes. Before I go on, notice the word "happened". You will see that it is very appropriate.

It was quite a while ago. I was teaching a group of upper-intermediate students (adults) and they were really nice and cooperative. One girl worked in the German Embassy and she said she often played Taboo with her colleagues. She thought Taboo would be a great game to play in class. I agreed and promised to do someting about it. To my surprise, she brought the game to our next class. It was the original game, not one of those activities we, the teachers, create when we want to recycle vocabulary. And it had originally been in German, so she had single-handedly translated all the cards.

She literally took over from the beginning of the class. She took my place and I suggested I should be one of the students that day. She divided us into groups, explained the rules, timed us... When it was my turn to explain a word, I got a bit confused, which made the students rather pleased.

The reason I remember that class so well is that I have always felt it was one of my best classes ever. And, as you can see, it hadn't been planned by me at all.

I do wonder what the students thought about it, though. I wish I had collected some feedback.

What do you think? Should I have done what I did? Or should I have stuck to my lesson plan?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Park Wisdom

I was in a spa last week. One day, my son and I took a ride in one of those old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages. I took out my camera and aimed it at my son's face. I put it down, irritated. His face was too close and I couldn't make a nice picture. Soon after that the carriage started. I decided to make a video clip and upload it later. I raised my camera again. The carriage was shaking too much (really, those horses), so I put the camera down. I finally paid attention to what was going on. The name of the spa is Vrnjacka Banja and it is really beautiful, especially if you are in a carriage. I was beginning to feel like a princess from a fairy-tale. Then the driver took out his mobile and the magic was gone. I thought how interesting it would be to tweet this. But I didn't have enough money on my mobile account. The driver put down his mobile and broke into a song. He had a good singing voice. I was immediately transported back to the time I was 10 and sitting in a gondola in Venice. Naturally, I desperately wanted to tweet this. I checked my mobile account. No, definitely not enough money on it. So I finally gave up. I had no choice - I had to enjoy the ride, the beautiful spa and the fact that I was there with my son without tweeting, you-tubing or facebooking about it.

Ruled Red Notebook - Pocket

I like to write my blog posts sitting in cafes and parks. There is something romantic about pen and paper. I always use beautiful notebooks and I really love my little red Moleskine notebook. I always carry it with me, just in case. Also, I concentrate better if I am not on the Internet. Today I sat in a park, a large iced latte by my side.

I didn't write today. This wouldn't be so strange in itself, as there are a lot of situations when I don't write (you will notice that my last post was a month ago). You see, I wanted to write. I started this post yesterday and I hoped I could use my time in the park to finish it. Instead, I decided to sit there and focus. I watched the children playing, a young couple eating hamburgers, a girl sitting in the grass reading a book... Everything was so beautiful and so there. And I could have missed it as I so often do.

Don't worry. I am still an Internet addict and a notorious multitasker. I am not going to go to Tibet and start meditating. And I am not going to tell you to turn off your computer and get a life or to focus and live in the present. That is not the message I am trying to convey.

So, what is the message I am trying to convey? Your guess is as good as mine. It is obvious that I am enjoying my holiday and it is equally obvious that it is having a disastrous effect on my blogging style. I'd better put some TEFL in and quickly.

Most teachers are notorious multitaskers and they often lack focus. They say nonsensical things, wear shoes of different colour and walk into buckets of water. They write something on the board while listening to four groups of students at the same time while answering a question while worrying whether they are going to finish everything they planned to do...

What would happen if we just let go? Do you think the class would fall apart? Or would those four groups of students go on with their discussion, blissfully unaware of the fact that the teacher is not trying to control them any more? Maybe we could do what I did in the park today - observe our students, admire them, even learn from them. After all, are we really in control of their learning process?

Letting go would definitely be beneficial for us - we would be more relaxed and we might even never walk into another bucket of water as long as we live - but could it be beneficial for our students as well? Would they take more responsibility for their learning process? Let's face it: we do not make the Earth spin, we do not make the Sun go out every morning and, no matter how hard we try, we cannot learn instead of our students.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Why Blogging is Good for EFL Teachers

If you are an EFL teacher and have just started blogging, you probably have a big problem with motivation. Blogging is time-consuming and at first it feels like nobody is reading your blog. So you might be thinking about giving up. Please don't. I have come up with nine reasons why blogging is good for EFL teachers:

1. Because it is more fun than writing lesson plans.
I am sure your head is full of imaginative lesson ideas. If you are like me, you will often get cold feet before you do something bold in class, something different from what you usually do. Blogging about your ideas, no matter how crazy they sound, will give you the courage to try them out.

2. Because sharing is caring.
If other bloggers find your posts useful, they will visit your blog more often and leave really useful comments. Sometimes their comments will improve your original idea and someone might even start an interesting discussion. Sometimes they will just say: "Great post. Loved your idea. Thanks for sharing." And that will make you feel great about what you are doing and you will start posting regularly. Other bloggers will find out about you and soon your blog will be flourishing.

3. Because it will make you a better teacher.
I do believe that blogging has made me a better teacher. The mere fact that I sit down and write about what I am going to do or why I have done something in class makes me reflect on my teaching style.

4. Because you will never stop learning.
There are lots of great EFL teachers who blog. You will be learning from them and with them. If at first it feels like you are the one who is receiving all the knowledge and giving nothing in return, that will soon change. And let me tell you that the blogging community needs the people who can ask the right questions as much as it needs those who will answer them.

5. Because you will never feel alone any more.
Let's face it - once you walk into that classroom, you are on your own. Yes, I am aware of the fact that the classroom is full of people, but both you and I know that there is a gap between you and them. They are the students, you are the teacher and that's that. The good news is that you can share your classroom experiences in your blog. And you will find out that other teachers understand you, no matter where they are from. They know.

6. Because it is fun.
Obviously, you need to enjoy writing in order to start blogging. I would never run a marathon only because someone claimed it would improve my teaching style. I hate running and I am really bad at it. But writing (and blogging) makes me happy. If you are like me, go ahead. You have got nothing to lose and you'll have the time of your life.

7. Because you will meet great people.
Bloggers are, as a rule, great people. They are supportive of each other and friendly. A lot of the people I have met through blogging are not teachers at all. Still, we have something in common. We are bloggers. (You have to bear in mind that, though a lot of people blog, not all of them call themselves bloggers. A blogger sees blogging as his/her primary online activity.)

8. Because you care.
You care about your students. And you are a great teacher. So, let the other teachers know about you and learn from you. Which brings me to my last point

9. Because what we do matters.
We are important. We change people's lives in so many ways. We teach them, we support them, we love them. The world should know about us.

If you have just started blogging, I would really like to be one of your first readers. And if you have never left a comment in someone's blog, go ahead and leave one here. I will be happy to meet you.

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Monday, 15 June 2009

Down Memory Lane

My son is nine and his school year finished on Friday. To celebrate, we took him out to dinner yesterday. So there I was, sitting in that beautiful garden, looking at the faces of the people I love, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by sadness. It came out of nowhere and it brought tears to my eyes. I was transported way, way back in time. I was sitting at a similar table, looking at the faces I love, only now I was nine and the faces were those of my parents.

Life passes so quickly, doesn't it?

I was still sad when I came home, so I decided to do something creative with that feeling. It usually helps. I remembered I had seen this little film in TheEngTeacher's blog:

I grew up in Belgrade, so the names of the products and the TV shows didn't speak to me. Instead I started remembering the things we used to eat and the shows we used to watch. Yes, I grew up in the 70s too. And it all came back to me. So, I went and searched You Tube for the pieces of my own childhood. That place is like a time capsule. I found a huge collection of old Yugoslav commercials and children's TV shows. However, I have decided to share this little gem:

I don't know when exactly this video was made (might have been much later than the time when I was this old). Still, I can feel the rough material of the blue school uniform against my skin and I can feel my mother pulling back my hair every morning as she was tying a ribbon similar to that the girl is wearing (ah, the torture).

Naturally, I started thinking how this could be used in class and I came up with a couple of ideas:

1. If your students are children or teenagers, find a video that reminds you of your childhood and share it with them. Ask them to compare your childhood to theirs. Be brave, as they will probably laugh at the clothes and the hairstyles.

2. If your students are adults and if they are good with computers, ask them to find videos and pictures that remind them of their own childhood. Have them organise those in a wiki format or put them in their blogs.

3. If your students are not very good with computers, you can make a surprise wiki for them. Find out how old they are and search the Web for the things that might have a special meaning for them.

This is a good starting point for a discussion or a writing task. And, since the topics of childhood and school days often appear in textbooks, this is a good way to make them more vivid and meaningful for the students.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

You know the end of the school year is near when

Relaxing on the beach

- You haven't blogged for three weeks (because your blog is about teaching and you are so tired of teaching that you have nothing to say).
- You are thinking about starting a travel blog instead.
- You sigh loudly in front of your students at the beginning of the class. Realising what you have done, you say the heat is killing you.
- You have started counting the hours you have to spend teaching until the holiday begins (105).
- You are thinking about the beginning of the next school year with horror.
- All your lesson plans somehow revolve around the topic of summer holidays.
- You are thinking about starting a fashion blog.
- You finally write a very, very short post, just to get it over with. Then you hope your readers will add more ideas to your very, very short post.

So, how do you know the end of the school year is near?

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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

So Long, Vincent

I already shared this slideshow on this blog once before. Unfortunately, I never bothered to write a proper blog post to follow it. Alas, I was young and foolish. And lazy.

Anyway, had I written a proper blog post with the slideshow, this is how it would have sounded:
"Van Gogh's museum in Second Life is a magical place. Imagine living inside one of Vincent's paintings - sitting in that cafe of his pretending to be a regular, posing in front of the fountain or under the starry sky. Imagine looking at the paintings that no longer exist. Van Gogh's Museum in Second Life is so beautiful that you will never want to leave."

Something like that. Except that Van Gogh's Museum in Second Life no longer exists. Alongside with a lot of other cool places elsewhere on the Web (for example, where is English Droid?!).

Nothing lasts for ever on the Internet. Take Twitter, for example. Sometimes I read a tweet that is really funny or really wise (or both at the same time). Unless I remember who has written it, I will never be able to find it again. And it is a pity.

Imagine what Shakespeare's tweets would have been like. And imagine losing them forever on the Internet. 

Then, there are digital photos. They are all over the place - digital frames, Web albums, mobiles, emails... None of these things last for ever. And very few people still bother with hard copies. 

I wonder how our culture will look to the next generation. Will there be enough of our culture for the next generation to study? And how do we preserve what we have? 

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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Let's have a Susan Boyle Moment

I had a Susan Boyle week. I did Susan Boyle in my Intermediate class, then I had a very similar lesson in my Pre-Intermediate class, then I used the idea as a warmer in my CPE class and I think I am going to try something similar on Tuesday in my Elementary class.

My husband said I just needed an excuse to listen to her voice. He was right.

Anyway, this is how I did it: I played the audio of Susan singing Cry Me a River (it is much less famous than Les Miserables and it is a beautiful song) and I asked the students to imagine the woman singing it. Needless to say, they concluded she was tall, slim, beautiful, in her 30s and had long hair. They couldn't agree whether she was a blonde or a brunette. Then I showed them Susan's photo and everybody recognised her. They had all seen the You Tube video or at least heard about it.

After that I did different things. In my Intermediate class I pretended I was Susan and they interviewed me. I used their questions and my answers to revise indirect speech. Then we discussed the whole Susan Boyle phenomenon and we talked about our own dreams and ambitions. Finally, I gave them the Cry Me a River lyrics. In the Pre-Intermediate class I used the lyrics to introduce a couple of phrases and idioms ("You drove me out of my head", "You said that you were through with me") and then they decided to sing along. In CPE we got more philosophical and discussed the economic chrisis and the music industry.

And I am not the only one. I know of at least two EFL teachers who came up with their own Susan Boyle lesson plans. Check out Karenne's post (the lesson plan can be downloaded) and then visit Susana's blog. Susana's students left some great comments

Why does this type of lesson plan work? 

Well, it is up to date and, as one of my students said, "She gives people hope." We can always do with a little hope in an EFL class. We can do with a little hope everywhere.

If you have your own Susan Boyle lesson plan, please share it here. Or just come and brainstorm your ideas in the comments section. If you are reading this and you are not an EFL teacher, you can still share your ideas here. Or your dreams.

Let's have a Susan Boyle moment. 

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Monday, 13 April 2009

The Little Imperfections and What not to Talk about in Class

Razlan wrote an excellent post on 10 things he'd like people to say at his funeral. He also shared this wonderful film in his post.

I was wondering if it could be used in class... Both the film and the idea behind the post, I mean. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?

I can see you getting up from your chairs and waving a fist at me (which is great, because at least you'll get some exercise that way, after all the time you've spent in front of your computer). The ideas this woman has. And she was told a long time ago never, and I mean never to mention death in her class. And religion. And...

OK, I probably won't use the "10 things" idea anyway. But the video would be great and, in fact,  it has been used for that purpose. As Sze says in the ad maker's blog:

"Just to let you know, I used this short film with my civics class, after I asked all 28 of them to share what they couldn't stand about their family (they loved talking about that!). After viewing this film, the hyperactive 18-year-olds became really sombre and I peeked to see one of my boys actually tearing a little. We then talked about family and also the notion of perfection in their future life partners. I think they learnt some lessons today."

I think this is a good idea. In fact, I think I'll embed this video in my intermediate wiki and write a couple of questions for them to think about. I might even add the: What would you like people to say at your....

OK, OK, you hate me. I'll stop here. But I would really like to hear what you have to say. I have one simple question for you:

What do you never talk about in your English class?

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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

25 Ways to Keep Your EFL Students Motivated

1. Show them that you care. Show them that they are important to you as human beings, not just as students.
2. Use positive emotions in class. There is a better chance that they will remember what you did.
3. Use humour as much as possible.
4. Give them quality homework. Start a blog, create a wiki, give them project work.
5. Give them visual input. Pictures, images, photos.
6. I know this one is obvious, but do your best to make your classes interesting.
7. Bring their personal interests into class. If they have a hobby, let them talk about it.
8. Whenever possible, personalise their homework. Make it relevant for them.
9. Give them a lot of feedback and, if possible, make it positive.
10. Help them set realistic goals. If their goals are set too low, they will learn nothing new. If they are set too high, they will be disappointed.
11. Let them feel safe. Make the classroom a safe place for them to make mistakes and ask questions.
12. Praise them. Concentrate on what they are good at.
13. Challenge them. Show them how much they can achieve. It is often much more than they thought they could achieve.
14. Give them choice. Let them choose which activity they will do first and how they will do it. That way, they will feel included in the decision-making process.
15. Whenever possible, make the exercises open-ended and personalise them.
16. Teach them how to be autonomous. Teach them how to learn, how to organise their knowledge and how to find information.
17. Teach them how to assess their own knowledge. Introduce portfolio assessment as early as possible.
18. Explain the purpose of every activity. Don't say that you are going to "play a game". Tell them that they are going to practise reported speech, polite requests or whatever you are really going to practise. When explaining the purpose of an activity, start with yourself. If you don't know why you are going to do something, don't do it.
19. Give clear instructions. This is something I often have a problem with, and I find writing the instructions down before I go into class really helpful.
20. Show enthusiasm.
21. Don't wear a mask in class. Let them see what you are really like as a person. If they like you, they will like your class. This is true for adults as much as it is true for the children.
22. Ask for feedback. Show them that you really want it.
23. Create the group spirit. Encourage them to cooperate and help each other.
24. Make sure that everybody knows everybody else's name.
25. Get them interested in Web 2.0. Teach them how to make the Internet their classroom.

What would you add to this list?

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You might also like: Student Motivation

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

31DBBB Day 1 - My Elevator Pitch

Wordle: Natasa's Blog 2

“An elevator pitch is an overview of an idea for a product, service, or project. The name reflects the fact that an elevator pitch can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (for example, thirty seconds or 100-150 words).” - Wikipedia

I thought I would wordle my Elevator Pitch and you can see the result at the top of the page.

Another way of doing it would be to answer the good old Who? What? Where? When? Why? set of questions. So here it is:

Who? I am a teacher of English, a Web 2.0 geek and a lifelong learner.

What? I blog about the stuff you would generally expect me to blog about (see the Who? part), but the result is often unexpected. I cook with common ingredients, but I end up creating a new dish.

Where? I am from Serbia, but you can find me "all over the place" as far as Internet is concerned.

When? I usually blog once a week.

Why? I blog because it is fun.

I am not sure I could deliver this during an elevator ride. Maybe if I held my breath and spoke really, really fast.

How about this: "I am an EFL teacher, a lifelong learner, a creative writer and a Web 2.0 enthusiast. I blog because blogging makes me happy."

Which of the three descriptions of my blog do you like best - the short one, the long one or the Wordle? What comes to your mind when you look at my blog? How would you describe it?

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Saturday, 4 April 2009

Days 20 and 22 - Welcome readers old and new

If you are here for the first time, welcome. You can find out more about me here.

This blog was born on 22nd January 2008 (which happens to be my birthday too) as a part of the Blogging4Educators course. I have done different things on the Internet since then (Twittered, created wikis, podcasts, slideshows and online exercises), but my favourite online activity is still blogging. It is hard to define why - maybe because I simply enjoy writing. It clears my mind and helps me think.

I blog about different things - Web 2.0, teaching English, the seminars I am attending... You can find out what my favourite posts are here.

If you like what you see, please come back. Or you can subscribe to my blog via RSS or Email - whichever you prefer. And do leave a comment. I love comments and I will definitely write back.

If you have been here before and like my blog, please don't leave yet. I need your help to improve this blog. If you can spare a minute, please leave a comment and answer some of these questions:

How did you find out about my blog?

What do you like about it?

What should I do to improve it?
Is there something you would like me to write about?

P.S. This was my 31 Day Challenge homework. Here are the links to the posts I wrote about the 31 Day Challenge:

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The 31 Day Challenge - Days 16, 18 , 19 and 21

I didn't blog last week, so I have decided to tackle four tasks today. The fact that I have already done three tasks out of four will certainly help.

The Day 16 task was to create a heatmap of where readers click on my page. There is a program called Crazy Egg which takes pictures of your blog and enables you to see which links your readers have followed. It doesn't give you as much information as Google Analytics does, but it is fun to use.  So, I'll keep Crazy Egg on and see what happens. This is work in progress.

The Day 18 task was to create a sneeze page. A sneeze page is a blog post which takes the readers back to your old posts by creating a series of links. This is really useful - it gives the readers a chance to read your old posts and, perhaps, come again...  Now, here is the catch, because you have to go through your posts, explain, link and reflect. It is a time-consuming process, but you will feel really pleased with yourself once you have done it. And I do feel pleased with myself for having done it on 22nd January, the day my blog was one year old. I chose the posts that were my personal favourites.

I am planning to make this a habit. I will certainly make a sneeze post on this challenge once I have completed it (don't hold your breath). It is good to stop and reflect every now and then and to pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you have done. You deserve it. 

 The Day 19 task was to respond to comments on my blog. I am proud to say that I am already doing this. I am really happy when my visitors leave comments in my blog and I always respond to them. I go one step further - I visit their blog, read a couple of posts and leave a comment somewhere. That's what they told us to do in Blogging4Educators last year and, if you ask me, it is the polite thing to do. When someone talks to you, you respond, don't you? And then you say something to them and they respond. This is called conversation. The networking power of blogging is often neglected. In this respect, blogs are as powerful as Twitter, maybe even more so. I have met some really great people through blogging.

I was going to sign off here, when I realised that I had already done the Day 21 task. The task was to make a reader famous. There are different ways of doing this and I did it on Day 15 when I wrote about the Webheads' blogs. The post has attracted readers and has quite a few comments. It felt good to write it. In fact, it felt so good to write it that I am certainly going to do something similar again. 

 Which reminds me: I am planning to write a sneeze post on my readers' comments and I'll link to their blogs. It will probably take ages to write, but my readers deserve that.

First, however, I have to finish the Challenge.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Day 15 - Make Your Most Popular Posts Sticky

Today's challenge has made me look at blogging from a different perspective - my readers' perspective.

When we write a blog post, we take too much for granted. We believe that the readers know everything we know. We suppose that our readers know us, that they have read every single post we have written. 

What we should ask ourselves is a very simple question: Is this the way we read other people's blogs? Once you think about how you behave on the Internet - not as a writer, but as a reader, you begin to understand that you have to do everything you can to make your reader's life as easy as possible. 

Today's task was relatively simple - to add a "Subscribe to this post via RSS or via email" link directly to my most popular posts. The idea is not simply to make my readers subscribe, but rather to save them a lot of time if subscribing is what they want - instead of searching the sidebar, they simply click on the link at the bottom of the post.

I write on Fridays. Or on Saturdays. Which is OK if I am working on a long complicated post with a lot of links like I did last week. On the other hand, writing about how I stickified my posts (love the word) shouldn't take long, should it? Yes, but the actual process of stickifying (I do love this word) is what takes time. It is similar to interlinking. You have to go all the way back and add the RSS link to your old posts.

In his video Darren suggests that you should add the Subscribe link to the posts that are attracting more readers than others. By now I have become good friends with my Google Analytics tool. It gives me confidence to know that there are a few people out there who are reading this. I know which posts are being read more than others. And I know which posts have attracted comments. Still, I added the "If you like this blog you can subscribe to it via RSS or via email" link to the bottom of every single post (maybe I skipped a few by accident, but I'll get there). To be on the safe side. And to make your life really easy.

If you like this blog, you can subscribe to it via RSS or via email. 

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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Day 14 - All Things Beautiful

No, I haven't forgotten about the Challenge, but I wanted to do something special for Day 14.
First of all, I don't see other bloggers as competition. I prefer to see the Blogosphere as a club and other bloggers as the people I can learn from and talk to.
Having said that, let me tell you that I haven't used any search terms or Technorati tags to find the bloggers I am going to write about - I used the Webheads Pageflakes start-up page.
I have been present on the Internet for a little over a year. Before that, I was just someone googling in the dark. I owe my Internet presence to the Webheads. Since the EVO sessions have just finished, I have decided to walk with you through the Webheads' personal blogs. I am going to limit myself to ten blogs only (that was the task and, otherwise, this post would be really, really long) , so my apologies to everyone I have left out today.
I will start with Vance's Lifelong Learner Autonomy meets Electronic Village Online , because it explains so well what EVO sessions are.
We are really glad to have Larry Felazzo and Nik Peachey among us.
My favourite post by Larry Felazzo is When A "Good" Class Goes Bad (and Back to Good Again). Although I teach adults, I have found Larry's advice very useful.
Nik Peachey has three blogs and a lot of resources and it was difficult to choose one post to share. Still, for me one post stands out - the tutorial on how to create a personal homepage in Netvibes. Thanks to this tutorial I have my own Netvibes page - a personal website and an
e-portfolio created in several easy steps. And I can always add new things to it.
My Blogging4Educators teacher Carla Arena now blogs here, but I would like you to read her old post on poverty . Mary Hills also wrote about poverty. Can bloggers do something to make this world a better place? I believe they can.
I love the text Nergiz wrote on St Catherine Monastery in Second Life . Thanks to Nergiz, I visited the place and it is amazing.
This is what Illya says about digital immigrants in How many times do we need to recreate ourselves: "So are we a lost generation constantly in search for the perfect tool, which we’ll never find because, even if we do find it, a new one will come along, making the old one obsolete."
I was delighted to find a post about Heidi in Nina's Reading Blog. I read Heidi 16 times as a child. Like Nina, I don't know what I found so fascinating about this book, but I loved it.
I called this post All Things Beautiful. I started with Saša's great video and I would like to finish with Ana Maria's The Message from Water . The video says it all.
Now let me go back to the task. The task was to find ten blogs in my niche and follow them for a week. Did I do as I was told? Well, not exactly.
The blogs are in my niche, that part is true, but I didn't follow them in my reader for a week. Why? Because, with a few honourable exceptions, the Webheads are irregular bloggers. Secondly, I was the one choosing the posts instead of letting a reader do it for me. I went all the way back to 2007 to find Heidi (or did she find me?).
Which brings me to why I believe RSS is not a solution to everything. There are some blogs I have subscribed to via email. There are some blogs I visit regularly (i.e. I go to the website itself). I rarely open my Bloglines reader. You see, I have subscribed to too many blogs and that has made my reader literally useless. That's me. I have always been messy.
When I am looking for a particular topic, I will use Google Blog Search. I rarely use Technorati because it is not reliable. That's all I am going to say about Technorati. After all, this post is called All Things Beautiful.
I would like to add that it has taken me two weeks to write this post. I started with the idea that this should be a tribute to the Webheads. Instead, it looks like one of those "10 things you didn't know about me" challenges. Something like this:
1. I am a Webhead
2. I loved Heidi as a child
3. I believe bloggers can change the world
4. If there was a church like the St. Catherine in my neighbourhood, I would go there to pray
5. I am a digital immigrant
6. I prefer Google to Technorati
7. I am a messy person
8. I am interested in classroom dynamics
9. I am really bad at maths, because there are only nine things in my list.
And now I will dutifully create a Technorati tag here:

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Back to Day 11 - Analysing the Analytics

You may remember that I installed Google Analytics at the beginning of February and I promised I would go back to Day 11 when I had something to report. Now, almost three weeks later, I have a slightly clearer picture of the traffic that's going on through my blog at the moment.

Since February 2nd, 64 people have visited my blog. 74% have visited only once (I guess that's not so good), but there are 22 people who have been here several times. On the average, I have 3 visitors a day (2.74 visitors a day, to be precise), which is great, except for Wednesday 11th February, when no one came. I wonder why no one came on 11th February, but I guess I'll never get an answer to that. Where were YOU on 11th February?!

I don't know what to make of this data. I have never been very good at maths and I am not a great believer in statistics. Still, I am really, really happy that there are people out there who are reading this. We assume (wrongly) that all our visitors will leave a comment. Of course, very few of them do. Another thing I noticed is that the readers don't stay long (some two minutes on the average). That is disappointing, of course, but I often rush through other people's blogs myself. As I have said before, a blog is not a novel. You don't want to spend hours on it.

How have these people found me? As I have expected, my visitors are involved in the same projects as myself - 31 Day Challenge, EVO sessions, especially BaW09. Twitter and my Netvibes page seem to be responsible for bringing a few visitors to my blog. However, 43% came to me over Google search.

The thing I should be really interested in is what gets read. Not surprisingly, A Blogger's Day in Hell was viewed 22 times (thanks, Sue, for linking to this post), the About me page got 8 visits, My First Podomatic Experience was viewed 5 times (and most visitors left a comment, but then I asked for help with this post, so it doesn't count). Motivation was viewed 6 times (I am still hoping to start a discussion there). The biggest surprise is the post about My Most Embarrassing Experience. I have never been very fond of this post. In fact, it was an assignment (the idea was to engage readers to share personal stories), but I wasn't too happy with how I had done it. So, how come it got visited 25 times? 25 unique pageviews! Why? Is it because people like to read this kind of personal stuff? Would I have read such a post? I guess the answer is "Yes". Or maybe, as one look at Keywords reveals, someone was looking for the embarrassing experience stories.

Analytics is really great. It has made me feel more confident, but it has also made me reflect more on who my readers are and what they are looking for. Of course, it has managed to confuse me even further, but that's another story.

What links here:

Monday, 16 February 2009

My Father's Story

This was a Week 4 task in Images4Education.

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

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Friday, 6 February 2009


These are the notes I used for my talk on student motivation last March. This is work in progress. I would like to do more research in this field. Your comments are welcome.
View more presentations from lunas994. (tags: student motivation)
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Thursday, 5 February 2009

Somewhere between Days 11 and 12

The Day 11 challenge was to dig into my blog's statistics. I installed Google Analytics last night and I am very proud of myself because it involved working with hypertext and I managed on my own (on my problems with hypertext reed Day 4). 24 hours later I got the first results. 12 visitors! I think it is great. But I don't think 24 hours is enough to analyse my results. So I have decided to "do" Day 11 later, when I have something to analyse. Maybe in a week's time, or even later. It is a great tool and I recommend it to everyone. It does boost your confidence to find out that you have had 12 visitors in a single day. And here I was, thinking that nobody was reading this but myself.

Since I hadn't quite completed the Day 11 challenge, I decided to move on. My Day 12 challenge was to introduce myself to another blogger. I looked at the blogs in our wiki, picked a name at random and was amazed. I discovered Ana's blog. Ana has some great photos in her blog, but I like her texts too, especially the one about her school. So I sent an email to Ana and introduced myself. She did reply, which is great.

I am beginning to understand why this is called Building a Better Blog.

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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Day 10 - Goodbye to the Voki Girl

She is gone. The elegant girl with a perfect hairstyle, the unassuming creature that never spoke until you clicked the Play button, whereupon she wished you "Welcome" in a perfect accent. It is with tears in my eyes that I removed her. Why did I remove her? Because I couldn't answer my husband's "And what is this for?" (Day 2 - A first time reader audit).
I would have removed her earlier, but I strategically waited for Day 10, which is the Declutter your Sidebar Day.
I also removed Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat. I removed the Feevy, because of the way I was using it. I only had my class blog in it - visible from my profile.
I removed the Links widget because there was only one link in it. I intend to put it back in and to add links to other people's blogs (I believe it is one of the tasks). I also removed the Internet Slang widget - it is more suitable for my class blog than here. I replaced the Delicious button with my Diigo bookmarks. Then I remembered to add the 'Bookmark This with Diigo' button.
Then I started adding things (I know, I was supposed to remove them, but it's in my nature, I am a hoarder).
I added the Ning badges for the sites related to blogging (Blogging for Educators was already there and I added Building a Better Blog, EduBlogger World and Classroom 2.0). If anyone would like to see the full list of the Ning groups I belong to, please take a look at my Netvibes page.
I added the Search this Blog widget which I am very proud of.
I believe that my page loads faster now and at the moment I have a reason for everything that is in my sidebar.
However, I am always eager to hear your comments.

Related posts:

Monday, 2 February 2009

31 Day Challenge - Days 6 and 8

I followed Sue's advice and left Day 7 for the end. Makes sense. When I finish the Challenge (one day, in the distant future), it will make sense to do Day 7 - which is to make my next week's posting schedule. Then it will be the right time to think about what I want to do next with my blog.
Today, my tasks were easy. First I had to email an old reader. I chose Jeanette for three reasons:
- she has been giving me continuous support during the Challenge
- she is doing the challenge herself, so she would know why I was emailing her (I still have the fear of being seen as a spammer)
- she has email enabled in her blog :-)
Earlier this evening I got a visit from a couple of Webheads who left some nice comments in my post about my first podcast, so I followed them back to their blogs. I read Hala's post on procrastination and recognised myself in it. So I left a comment.
Now I will go and declutter my sidebar. I think I really need to hurry up here, I am lagging behind.

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